Category Archives: Student Projects

Writing Heals. Writing Assignments Do Not

Last week I learned a valuable truth:  Even when we think they are not listening, sometimes students get it.

Let me back up.

The week before last I attended a department meeting where our district ELA coordinator shared the National Writing Project’s Case for Good Instruction, information I learned at my National Writing Project Summer Institute in ’09. It details the differences between When Writing is Assigned and When Writing is Taught. The discussion around me was interesting and peppered with excuses. I left wondering how teachers would answer these questions if they were on a quiz. How would you?

In your ELA class, do students:

  • have opportunities to create topics that matter to them?
  • understand audience and purpose for papers because they are specifically identified in assignments?
  • see you spending time teaching writing skills and strategies?
  • get writing models, assignments, and strategies to guide each of the different writing tasks?
  • reflect on significant growth — or lack of it — in specific writing skills?
  • hear words of encouragement cheering them on to revise, edit, and improve — and to correct drafts and then resubmit?
  • think about what they write through brainstorming, free writing, role-playing, discussion, or other prewriting activities?
  • celebrate what they, and you, write and make efforts to display and publish it?

I think the biggest excuse we give for leaning on assignments rather than acting on instruction is TIME.

“I can’t let students choose topics because they don’t know what to choose.”

“I can’t teach this novel if it takes so long to write a paper.”

“I can’t do my research paper if I give them time to resubmit. It already takes so long to grade the finished product.”

Maybe you are right. Maybe we have to give up things that we think are best practices for things that are better practices.

Student choice in writing topics is better practice.

Writing instruction with effective models, strategies, time to talk, and time to write are better practices.

Helping students revise, edit, and improve their writing during the writing process with a keen sense of audience and purpose are better practices.

conferringwithjulyssaOur students need time. They need our time. They need our attention and our careful consideration about the things that matter to them. We may have to let some things go in order to give our students what they need.

We learn valuable truths when we do. Last week my students performed (or presented) their poetic arguments. We spent weeks choosing topics, watching video performances, analyzing lyrics for structure and craft, thinking, drafting, talking, revising, studying models, reading each other’s writing, giving feedback, practicing mini-lessons on concrete details and using abstract language to create jaw-dropping imagery.

We were a community of writers, united in a task uniquely our own.

And that is the difference between When Writing is Assigned and When Writing is Taught.

During all that time, I didn’t think Stephanie was listening. She sat at her table, barely talking, sometimes writing, always sad. Then right before Christmas break I sat down and we talked. She showed me her draft, and it scared me. I knew she’d been depressed — her grandmother died at the beginning of the year, and the light left Stephanie’s eyes. I listened to her share her sorrow, her anxiety, the weight of her world , and I gave her my cell phone number with the promise she would call if her boots got too heavy. Thankfully, they didn’t.

Every one of my students who presented their poems sparkled with pride as they faced their classmates, even the ones whose knees knocked in fear. They wrote from their hearts about issues that matter to them personally. They wrote the most important arguments about mistaken perceptionholding grudges, self-hate and self-love, parental control and uncontrolled parents, lying and how we’re programmed to labelBlack Lives Matter and dying white privilege. They wrote about better education and the stress of getting educated, absent fathers, loving fathers, and parentless children and alcoholics who should have put down that drink at 21.

They wrote about sticking together.

And they wrote about self-destruction and depression and monsters. So many of them wore grooves in the floor with the spikes that hold them in place until the sadness drags them down under. They broke my heart.


Writing to heal is better practice.

Please enjoy Stephanie’s poem. She calls it “Smile.”


Many students chose video presentations over live performances. I published several this morning on the 3TT Facebook page. Take a look.

Please share your thoughts on teaching writing. Leave a comment.



Amy Rasmussen lives in north Texas and teaches AP English Language and English 3 to the Fighting Farmers at Lewisville High School. She adheres to the words of Emerson: “We aim above the mark to hit the mark,” and Jesus Christ: “Love one another.” Imagine a world if we all love higher and harder than we think we can. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass.



Top 10 Books That Will Drastically Change Your Mood

img_1534I don’t know about the weather where you live, but it has been raining cats and dogs for a week here in West Virginia.  Baby Ruth and I are dying to go out for a walk, a coffee, a Target run–anything!!–but the rain is keeping us indoors and we’re feeling rather glum.

Luckily, I have a solution–reading.  It can transport us to other worlds, brighten our days, and alter our moods for the better.  Her little bookshelf is full of great titles by Shel Silverstein, Eric Carle, and other children’s greats, and mine is full of great titles like the ones my awesome student Giulia recommends below.

Giulia made a Top 10 List of books to drastically change your mood when reflecting on her semester’s reading last winter.  She realized that no matter what she was embroiled in–school, work, friends–these ten books could rip her away from reality and change her mood.  So if you’re looking for something to sweep you away, check out Giulia’s list below…and make sure you have these titles in your classroom library!

Giulia’s Top 10 Books That Will Drastically Change Your Mood

71VBpx0qsmLThe Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

This is one of the few non-fiction books I’ve read. I was more interested in this non-fiction book because the events that took place in The Glass Castle were completely insane so it seemed more like a fiction book. I think this is why I was more intrigued. This girl went through the majority of her life with the most ridiculous parents. They traveled America and went on all these adventurers that most people would consider insane. One part of the book that really stuck out to me was when this girl was little, she was boiling hot dogs on the stove, BY HERSELF, and something happened where the boiling water spilled down the front of her body and she had third degree burn and scars for the rest of her life.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

This is one of the rare books where I’ve seen the movie first then read the book, and come to find out that the book was way way way better than the movie. Both the movie and the book made me cry like a baby, but the book was more interesting, obviously. The book is based around a little girl who is growing up in Germany during the Holocaust. She begins to find that she is fascinated with books and does anything she can to get as many books as she can. Her family also faces the fears of hiding a Jew in their basement. Everything that happens in this book seems so fragile to me because I basically get to see this little girl grow up and face the world.

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

This book was recommended to me by a friend and usually I like to discover good books on my own, but I decided to read it. It was a nice love story mixed with humor. I love when authors do that. This girl is in high school and her older sister just died so she’s living with her crazy grandma and uncle. She and her sister’s dead boyfriend begin to fall for each other, but they both know it’s a big no no. They finally start to come back to reality and realize that they aren’t actually falling for each other, they are just trying to find comfort in one another. Throughout the entire book, this girl is STRUGGLING to find her way out of a hole she fell in when her older sister died. It’s touching and humorous and I loved every single bit of it.

sun_375wI’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

This book and the previous book both have the same author, Jandy Nelson. I’m assuming Jandy either grew up with a rather odd family or she has a rather odd imagination because both the families in each of these books are not your typically family. This is one of the first books I’ve read where one of the main characters is gay. It was definitely interesting, but not weird at all. The two main characters are a set of twins, both struggling with the divorce of their parents. One child is a boy and the other is a girl. Basically, they are both trying to get into this really nice art school, but the boy is trying harder than the girl. Throughout their childhood they are super close, like best friends, but as they grow older, there are a couple specific events that happen that tear them apart. This book, while wildly outrageous, was fun to read. It may seem confusing and slow at the beginning, to the point where you might contemplate finishing it, but it was totally worth finishing.

Everyday by David Levithan

I just recently read this book so it is fairly fresh in my mind. I was crazy about this book in the beginning, like I thought this was my favorite book of all time, and then it ended. It was maybe one of the worst endings I’ve ever read, but besides the ending, this book was ridiculously amazing. There were some things that were never answered, but then I keep thinking of how awesome the beginning of the book was and all I can do is fantasize about it. There is a boy and he is currently sixteen, and he wakes up in a different body every day. But there’s a catch. He only wakes up in sixteen-year-olds’ bodies, and it only happens in Maryland. It’s a little more complicated than that, but that’s the gist of it. On top of all that, he begins to fall for this girl that he only meets one day. He then continues to spend the rest of his “life” trying to find the girl he fell in love with all while trying not to harm any of the bodies that he inhibits. Crazy book, but ridiculously intriguing.

5152478Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

This book actually disgusted me in so many ways, but it was sooo good. These two girls have been best friends for a while, then one of them dies. Before the one girl dies, they make a pact to be skinner than the other… gross. The girl that’s still alive is literally insane. She starts hearing/seeing her dead friend. This girl continues to be as skinny as humanely possible. At one point I think her weight was a little less than 90 pounds, which is extremely poor for your health. She’s just having a hard time dealing with her friend’s death, so she is trying to feel better about herself by working out and eating basically nothing to reach her desired weight. The ending seemed a little rushed, but the rest of the book made up for it. I’ve never, in my life, read a book that seemed so realistic like this before. I didn’t know people like these girls actually existed or that it was so extreme.

Ugly Love by Colleen Hoover

I began to start reading books by Colleen Hoover because I wanted to take a break from some of the harsher books I’d been reading, so any of Colleen’s books are a nice book to read if you want to chill. The majority of them are all romance books, but not the cheesy kind. The main character is a girl who just moved into an apartment with her brother because she has a new job and is attending college at the same time, so she needed some help. Come to find out, her brother’s friend is insanely good-looking, so she is attracted to him immediately. There is something that this boy is hiding from her, but every time she tries to pry it from him, he immediately closes up. Warning: there is an EXTREMELY heart-breaking part in this book where I cried for a good ten minutes before continuing on with the rest of the book. The best part is that the movie is coming out in 2016 and I didn’t even know there was supposed to be a movie! So I’ve already made plans to go see it and determine if it will be as good as the book.

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

I read this book shortly after I read Gone Girl, and this book was an intense, short read. I have always been intrigued with the most profuse, disgusting, murderous books I can find, and this book definitely hit that level. This family is based on a girl whose family was murdered when she was a little girl. Everyone in her family is dead except for her, her brother, and her deranged father. She lives by herself because her father fell off the face of the earth and her brother is in prison for supposedly murdering the rest of her family. Ever since she was young, this girl was told to believe that her brother was responsible for the murder of her family, but as she grows older, she begins to wonder whether or not her brother was actually capable of something so insidious. She starts to dig deeper into the history of the murder and discovers the real murderer, along with her family’s mysterious past. This book was simultaneously disgusting and captivating and I love how Gillian Flynn writes.

Gone_Girl_(Flynn_novel)Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Everything I’ve ever read up until the point of reading Gone Girl didn’t matter to me (until I continued reading other books). This book was that good. I mean I’ve never read any type of thriller like this before in my life and I will never forget this book. It wasn’t the shortest book, but I finished it in two days, and that’s quick for me. The book is centered around this man whose wife goes missing and of course, he is the main suspect. He begins to find clues to lead him to his wife’s whereabouts, which become more gruesome as the “scavenger hunt” goes on. I REFUSE to watch the movie because I know nothing can beat the book. It was excruciatingly hard for me to set this book down. While some of the book was rather sexually descriptive and intense, I still loved it. The ending made me mad, but a good kind of mad.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

I read this book after I read Dark Places and while I liked this book a little less, it was still amazing. I don’t know how Gillian Flynn comes up with all the insane, nasty events that occur in her books, but it’s all brilliant. This girl is a journalist and lives by herself, but she just heard about a good story to write about back in her hometown, where her deranged mother, father, and younger sister. So she travels back to her hometown and is temporarily living with her family. As she does some research about the murders in town, she starts to link them back to her family. This girl is also not the most stable, so she has a terrible habit of making her body a canvas, and by this I mean she is constantly carving words into her body with any sharp object she can find. While the girl may seem somewhat crazy, it is nothing compared to her mother. One part of the book sticks out to me where the girl was spying on her mother who was taking care of a friend’s baby. When her mom thought no one was looking, the mom bit the baby’s cheek hard enough to draw blood. Obviously, the mother is crazy as well, but everything ties in at the end. The ending is the best part.

What titles do you and your students love that drastically alter your mood?  Please share in the comments!

Books That Gave Me The Feels

I’m a big fan of all kinds of reading–sweep-me-away books, books that are dense and time-consuming, mysteries that puzzle me when I’m trying to fall asleep, books that break my heart, and more.

I think the teenage version of that whole entire category is “the feels.”

Books that are powerful, that grip us and force us to grapple with them, are what “the feels” are all about.  This is what I hope my students read for the rest of their days–far beyond the measly month or so they have left of high school.  I’m heartened by Emma’s recommendation list below–her blend of mystery, YA, and nonfiction that just rips at her heartstrings–because I know she’s already discovering books that give her the feels, and I hope she’ll continue doing so beyond our classroom.

img_1549-1Emma’s Top 10 List: Books That Gave Me The Feels

  1. Stolen by Lucy Christopher – 

This book is crazy good. It has the most twisted and unexpected plot line in the history of books. With kidnappers then romance it is just freaky good. It would keep basically any reader captivated. A mixture of romance and just plain old creepiness.

  1. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn –

I love weird creepy things and this book is exactly that. It is an amazing mystery with a heart dropping twist that left me feeling sick to my stomach. If you are a disturbed human being like myself, this is a must read.

  1. 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher –

The overall idea of this book is sort of hard to wrap your head around. Suicide is a sensitive subject and this book makes it very real, almost as if you are living through the events. It is an interesting way of telling the story.

  1.  The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins –

Though cliché, this series is very good, and perfect for my list because it pulls out a lot of emotions. All the action and loss and real world situations that are incorporated make it a very good read.

  1. If I Stay by Gayle Forman –

very emotional book that weighs life and death. It is an interesting way of telling a romance story while keeping the reader on their toes the whole time for fear that it might end forever.51clOkezoKL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

  1. Sold by Patricia McCormick –

More than anything this book is written beautifully, but the story is also very touching. The real life of a poor girl who gets put in situations out of her control is truly touching. It is a very easy read but very worth is because it is so touching.

  1. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold –

This book is good because it is told from the point of view of Susie, a girl who was murdered. It’s a cool way of an outsider point of view to the family who is struggling with their daughter’s death.

  1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green –

On the more romantic side of my feels, this book ripped my heart out, along with every female heart in America. Illnesses are no joke and this book displayed the worst of circumstances, losing the one you love. It was a difficult book to read without crying.300x300

  1. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis –

On the complete opposite spectrum of any book genre. This book gives my Spiritual feels a tug. This isn’t a story with mystery or romance, it is just real life, telling you straight up how it is and I don’t know about you, but I’m a mess and when that is brought to my attention, the emotions start flowing. Plus, C.S. Lewis is a beast.

  1. 50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James 

I’ll start by apologizing for adding this book to my list but I don’t read many books so I don’t really have a choice. But hey, if awkwardness doesn’t give you the feels, what does? I can say with certainty that this novel will make you feel some type of way. Whether it’s good or bad, that’s up to you to decide.

“Plus, C.S. Lewis is a beast.” Don’t you just love that?!

What books give you and your students the feels?  Share in the comments!

How to Book Talk 100+ Books in One Day

“Do you have a minute? We have an idea we’d like to run past you.”

My colleagues Amy Menzel and Leah Tindall were all smiles. Big smiles. The kind that suggest sincere enthusiasm, huge plans, a ton of work, and the possibility of incredible results.

And boy, did they deliver.

This past Friday, Franklin High School hosted our first ever Readers’ Showcase.

Over 100 students shared their enthusiasm for literacy through the course of the entire school day, creating a sea of informative posters, book talks, literary swag, and sweet treats for enticing passersby to stop and learn about books ranging from The Draft  by Pete Williams, to #GirlBoss by Sophia Amoruso,  The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, and the biography of Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow.

Fresh off the heels of the incredible enthusiasm I detailed in this post about a choice reading frenzy at our school amidst the English department’s shift to readers and writers workshop, the showcase was a phenomenal way to keep students talking about books on a school wide scale.

As our Director of 9-12 Teaching and Learning Nick Kohn observed, “The love of reading was palpable throughout the entire building. I was particularly impressed not just with the depth and passion with which students talked about their books, but also with their excitement around the next book(s) they are planning to read.”

It was incredible to hear kids so excited to share their insights and recommendations with their peers and teachers and the organizers spoke passionately about loving to see their students engaged in “genuine conversations with authentic audience.”

I spoke with Brianna, a former student who read Devil in the White City. 


Brianna handed out laminated bookmarks that looked like World’s Fair Tickets from 1893! 

“I wasn’t so sure about this book to start with, Mrs. Dennis,” Brianna smiled, “The detail. I thought it might get overwhelming, but it was incredible.”

“Right?!” I gushed, “Erik Larson is such a master with historical detail. Can you imagine his research process? Have you read Issac’s StormIn the Garden of Beasts? Thunderstruck?”

Whoa. How many books does he have? ”

And there, folks, is the power of reading.

One book, leads to one more book, leads to a student rediscovering reading.

And a showcase is one way to share over 100 books, in hopes that even just one more student finds that one book.

Even more exciting is the sheer number of students sharing their interests with those who might be new to a particular topic. My husband referred to it as “cross pollination.” For all of us dreaming of spring, I thought this was quite a fitting metaphor. Students interacted with the sincere enthusiasm of their peers in relation to a great variety of topics and took away with them ideas about texts that might never have reached their attention otherwise. Each new booth was a new opportunity discuss a book that their peers were already validating. Worker bees making something sweet to share!

Amy and Leah did amazing work to make this first annual Reader’s Showcase a success.

Here’s how they did it!

Start with a desire to promote reading with your students. We know that students are far more apt to read what interests them. They are human, after all. So, promoting choice texts is the way to go.

Last week, I came across an article in English Leadership Quarterly that spoke to this very principle. “Top Five Reasons We Love Giving Students Choice in Reading,” details what supporters of readers workshop already live and breathe. To allow students to choose texts, not only empowers them as readers, but shows that we as educators value their opinions. Once that confidence is built, it allows for the type of real and meaningful conversations around texts that we educators can’t get enough of, because it involves passion on the part of our students.

Build that excitement by having kids get out and talk with others about what they read. Interest is built around texts that are visible and accessible to kids. And while we do our darnedest to fuel the fire with passionate book talks in our classrooms (my students have noted me tearing up and actually jumping around while talking about books), posters advocating literacy, student discussion on choice books, “what to read” lists, and more, sometimes you need to go big.

The showcase put on by our College Preparatory Language and Composition classes (comprised of juniors and seniors) took place in our high school library and featured over 100 students. That’s big.

Organization for the event included: 


The Reader’s Theatre

  1. An invite to the entire school to bring classes down for 20 minute showcase visits with their classes.
  2. Promotion via posters around school, a segment on our school news program, “Ask Me About My Book” buttons for all participants, and a fully decorated library to set the scene.
  3. A Reader’s Theatre book talk room to orient each visiting class where students entered, heard book talks from a rotating group of students, and were briefed on what they could find in the showcase.
  4. Book Booths manned throughout the day by students who supplied their insights and some sort of takeaway for guests (laminated bookmarks and themed treats were popular choices).


Students were expected to:

  1. Complete their text by the assigned day.
  2. Prepare a visually appealing tri-fold poster with the quotes they found to be most impactful, interesting facts about the text and/or the author, a recommendation section as to who might enjoy the book, and visual connections to the big ideas within the text. Students could also include reference to author blogs/websites that visitors might want to check out.
  3. Prepare several note cards with favorite quotes. Interested teachers could ask their visiting students to take a note card, find the corresponding booth, and ask the book talker to share why he/she chose that quote.
  4. Enthusiastically run their book booths throughout the day for the steady stream of classes that came through.

Cameron, on the left said, “It’s so cool to see real interest in the eyes of people that come to your book talk. They asked questions and seemed to be really listening!” 

And while the event itself and student preparation, obviously took a lot of work, the day itself was focused on fun.

Students nibbled on cake and perused book selections.

Teachers watched their students dash from booth to booth playing Showcase Bingo.

There were even book and gift card giveaways throughout the showcase, generously donated by our school principal. Rachelle, one of my students was lucky enough to win the new book Binge by Tyler Oakley (I felt super old when half my class of sophomores could not believe that I didn’t know who Tyler Oakley was. We looked him up. My list of books to read grows again). When we got back upstairs, Rachelle said, “It’s like they knew exactly what I would want to read.” Yup. It seems great books are falling from the sky these past few weeks. It’s awesome.

Finally, set aside some time for reflection. Amy and Leah’s big smiles paid off in a big way. The event was incredibly well received by not only the students that participated, but the students, staff, and administration that visited.

We are all already chatting about ideas for next year’s event. For example, the ladies plan to incorporate even more opportunities for fellow teachers to provide feedback on conversations with students and analysis of their visuals, thus sharing the load of assessment.

It’s all about sharing.

Share your love of reading with your students.

Ask them to turn around and share their love of reading with their peers.

One book, leads to one more book, leads to 100+ books in one day. 


Amy and Leah – masterminds of the 1st Annual Franklin High School Reader’s Showcase

Do you have questions on organizing a Reader’s Showcase or ideas from a similar event at your own school? Please share your questions and ideas in the comments below! 


Best Books About Life and How to Live It

Amy and I have been talking a lot lately about how to help our students connect meaningfully to the books they’re reading independently.  This focus on personal connections stems from our recent reading of  Louise Rosenblatt’s work, our effort to make our instruction authentic, and our noticing of the ease with which our students disconnect from the world.

One activity we gave our students the option to complete was the creation of their own Top 10 Lists, like this one.  Emily’s list is titled “Life and How to Live It,” and it is full of her own personal connections.  It’s reflective of Emily’s desire to become a published other, full of her love for literacy and learning about the world through reading.  I hope her passion spreads to your students when you share this list with them.

img_1502Emily’s Top 10 List: Life and How to Live It

Here, I present to you my top ten favorite books all loosely based around my personal favorite theme to read about: life and the different outlooks different people have on life. Some see the good in life, some see the bad, and others get to see both. Each one of us will face hardships throughout our lifetime while later on finding that one thing that makes us feel as if we have a purpose to exist. When we first open our eyes at the beginning of each day, we are faced with the option to treat this day like a curse, hiding away from this beautiful life we are given to live, or to focus our attention on the positives we have. The choice is yours.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Giver is hands down my favorite book of all time. I first read it in middle school and have been in love with it since then. The idea is basically that Jonas, the main character, lives in a utopian society with no bad whatsoever. At age 12 everyone in this society receives their career, and Jonas has a difficult time dealing with the career he has been given. I love this book for a few reasons: one is the way that the book itself is written, and the other is the story behind it. I love the idea that Jonas is the only one who gets to see the bad in the utopian society, because to me it sends the message that what may seem perfect, deep down has repressed secrets we all can’t see.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Of Mice and Men: a classic. In this tale Steinbeck tells the story of George and Lennie, two friends who take on the hardship of the Great Depression. Lennie, however, takes on more considering he is practically a father figure to George. Times get hard, but they don’t give up on each other. In the end, Lennie realizes that sometimes no matter how much you love something, if it’s not what is best for you then you can and will be able to survive without it, no matter how hard it is. I think overall this is the reason why I love this book so much.

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

This book brings me to tears–a lot of tears. Based on the true story of a young man who is happy in his life, living a life full of money and materialistic things. On the other side of the story, his old college professor Morrie is diagnosed with a deadly disease and must reunite with Mitch to teach him the things in life that are truly important. I love the idea behind this story, that in life we get lost in materialistic things and lose sight of the things that are most important in this short life we are given.

717Tx5+P+7LIt’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

The relationship between myself and this book is remarkable. I can honestly say that I personally connect to it more than most other readers. This book is about a young man who deals with severe depression and one night decides to admit himself into the hospital after contemplating suicide. He then spends a week in a psychiatric hospital, learning things about himself and everyone else. Vizzini actually spent time in a psychiatric hospital before writing this book which makes it that much better considering he can grasp the inside look on what it’s really like. I, myself, have spent time behind the doors of a psychiatric hospital, and strangely enough my story started off almost the same way Craig’s did.

Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Yet another amazing book that has the ability to bring tears to my eyes. The Perks of Being a Wallflower follows the story of Charlie, a freshman in high school who is struggling with depression and anxiety issues. Through letters, he talks about the good days and the bad, along with what is going through his mind. Charlie befriends Patrick and Sam who being to show him that it is okay to be different from everyone else.

Looking For Alaska by John Green

Looking for Alaska by John Green is a beautifully written story of a young boy who develops the nickname Pudge at a private high school where he meets and falls in love with the beautiful Alaska Young. So much happens while they are there together and he learns a life lesson. She teaches him to not be afraid of life, to go out and grab it because it can be a lot shorter than we expect.

Paper Towns by John Green

Paper Towns tells the heart-warming story of Quentin Jacobson who has secretly been in love with the girl next door, Margo. Margo taught Quentin a lesson which is the main reason I love this book so much – she taught him to go through life without being afraid of adventure. This is one of my top favorite books because I relate to Margo and her adventurous personality. I love Morgantown but I have always wanted to move somewhere where I can start completely over – the idea of recreating myself in a new place is thrilling.

410BrI9l37L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Skinny by Ibi Kaslik

Many teenage girls face a deadly mental illness – anorexia. Skinny tells the story of Giselle and how her battle with anorexia has flipped her life around. It also tells the story of her younger sister, Holly, and how her sister’s disease is effecting her life as well. The writing in this book was not my favorite, but it was still a great read. I love the idea that someone would want to put the issue of anorexia into words. My favorite part of the book, and the main reason it made my list of favorites, is the fact that it not only goes into the mind of the person facing the anorexia but someone close to her as well.

Afterparty by Ann Redisch Stampler

When I first started reading this book I didn’t think I would make it through but I’m glad I decided to finish it. Afterparty follows the story of a quiet girl who moves to a new town and decides it’s time for a change. She meets new people and gets to experience new and exciting things. This is something I have always wanted to do, which is why it made this list. Getting into a new place where you get to start completely over is more than exhilarating.

Everyday by David Levithan

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be someone else for a day? To get inside of their minds and read their deepest secrets? A, the main character in Everyday, gets to wake up in a new body each and every day. To me, the idea of this is both terrifying and fascinating. When I was reading this I was thinking about the psychological aspects of this because I want to become a psychologist one day so I will be in people’s mind, understanding then, just as A does.

What other titles teach readers about life and how to live it?  Please add your recommendations in the comments!

Best High-Interest Books for Teens

This year, Amy and I were determined to make our exams authentic.  One of the options for the reading portion of the exam was for our students to create top 10 lists, and many of them did.  Their lists are funny, honest, and so valuable for helping spread the word amongst readers about good books.  Below is Aleigha’s list of recommendations for high-interest books that will hook teens and get them to fall in love with reading–feel free to share them with your students!

img_1175Aleigha’s Top 10 List:  Best High-Interest for Teens

  1. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Though this book was funny and lighthearted it still had the ability to change my life.  It really helped me realize that you should appreciate your siblings while they are close to you.  Seeing how quickly Cath and Wren distanced themselves in college put my relationship with my siblings into perspective.

  1. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

This book is so much different from your usual love story. By that I mean it’s extremely realistic. It changed my life because I could picture myself as Eleanor. It was one of those books that are so realistic it’s kind of scary not many love stories can make you envision yourself as the character.

  1. I Hate Myselfie by Shane Dawson

hatemyselfieI have never laughed so hard while reading a book. This guy literally takes everything that should have been traumatic to him and turns it into humor. This book changed my life because it taught me that it is important to laugh at your own pain. You shouldn’t take everything so seriously.

  1. Looking for Alaska by John Green

This book for me is one that really set an example. It breaks away from the normal click of kids you have in high school and puts a group of complete opposites in a single friend group. That was one of my favorite things about this book. It just kind of made me feel like it’s okay for me to talk to the jock or the pothead.

  1. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

This book is very eye opening. It is about two teenagers who bond over a mental illness and fall in love it. It makes you very aware of the signs of depression and makes you analyze not only yourself but others. This book has the ability to change lives because it teaches you about the sensitive topic of depression.workinprogress

  1. A Work in Progress by Connor Franta

The author of this book is a Youtuber who tells you all about his life in high school and his YouTube journey. The book itself contains a lot of life lessons. He tells a story and then wraps it up with a lesson at the end. I enjoyed this book a lot because it shows how a normal really small town kid can become really successful with hard work.

  1. We Were Liars by e. lockhart

If we’re being honest, the only reason this book changed my life is because it just made me really depressed. I was just extremely upset once I reached the end of it. I didn’t want to believe what had happened was true and I cried for the main character. And then I cried because what other reaction can you have to a book that ended so terribly. So I guess this book changed my life because it made me realize that I cry more for fictional characters than I do for people I actually know.  

  1. The Fault in our Stars by John Green

Again another book that screwed me up emotionally. This one really does make you cherish your life and your friends. If after reading this you are not greatful for what and who you are blessed with that will be a surprise. Everytime I read this book I don’t just form my own imaginary relationship with Augustus Waters. I also find myself being very thankful that I have experienced little loss in my life.  This book is another one that puts it all into perspective.

  1. Every day by David Levithan

Every day is a book about a person who wakes up in a different body every day. He never has the chance to experience what it is like to have a family or best friend. This book is perksofbeinglife changing for me because it makes you appreciate the blessing of continuity. I think having a constant in your life is something that we all take for granted.

10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of those books that make you really cherish your friends. Until you find out what happens to Charlie as a child, you assume the book is about a young boy coming out of his shell. As u read through the book, you experience the ups and downs of friendship and watch Charlie become a whole new person. This book has made me really appreciate my friends.

All it Takes is a Tutu and Some Focus


It’s been a month since I realized that my 2014-2015 school year was going to throw me for loops, spins, twists and twirls.  And while I am by no means a self-proclaimed ballerina; I’m smiling, pointing my toes, and pirouetting with the best of ’em.  Because when the music starts the core needs to be strong, the back straight, muscles tight, and breath steady.

As I stretch daily, as all practicing and proficient ballerinas do, I prepare to move in ways that are brand new; ways in which I never thought my body knew how to.  Legs outstretched, arms over extended, and of course…hair tightly wrapped in a bun – not one hair out of place.  Grace and elegance: the aspiration of all ballerinas.

Ballerinas and educators.

And while ballerinas make their every move seem effortless, the reality is that every motion is executed with deep thought and delivered with exact precision.  The bar is set wildly high and only the best of the best can gently thrust their leg onto that bar as fingertips reach for and surpass beautifully pointed toes while bodies align with a diagonally extended leg.

But, what about the ballerinas who approach the bar with a “Hrmph!” and a stubborn knee that won’t align with the rest of the leg and an unmaintained balance as a ‘steady’ foot is anything but?  And that sleek bun?  That bun has come undone and wisps of hair are continually getting caught on eye lashes and tickling cheekbones refusing to cooperate.  And no, you cannot move your hands from First Position for a moment’s reprieve.


When we continue to throw on our tutus and ballet slippers and head straight into the studio before the sun has risen from its slumber: We are not giving up.  We are wrapping our bruised and bleeding toes accompanied by “Ouch!” and “Arghh!” but, we are not giving up.  We are placing even more bobby pins in our hair in hopes that today will be the day we are not tempted to twitch out of First Position.  Today, we stretch just a wee bit further in reaching for our little nubby toes.

As we wiggle and wobble…biting our lower lip oblivious to this false stability…we realize that our calloused hands are resting on those little nubs we’ve so desperately been trying to reach for weeks.  Yes, we are now touching our toes.  Wait.  What?  We did it?

I want to show you something.

Amazing isn’t it?  A young man in my Social Justice and Student Voice course was not willing to explore his 35-60 word biography (modeled after Visa Go World commercials) as it applied to his life.  But, he was willing to explore a puzzling injustice that he firmly believes has a feasible solution.  And his questions.  I could most definitely learn how to shape Essential Questions by conversing with this young man.

I’m still aiming for balance.

My knees are still a little bent.  My tutu is sometimes on backwards.  But, there’s hope!  While the majority of students were actively engaged in chronicling a moment in their lives, one student decided he needed to do things his way: focused, dedicated, and with a little pizzazz.  Is that not what the art of ballet truly encompasses?

As I continue to learn the intricacies of this art form, I take pleasure in exposing students to it as well.  We dance together…sometimes in beautiful unison and well, let’s face it, other times as if we’re all petit sauting to a different tune.  That day, this tenacious student decided to wear sneakers to ballet practice.  And, I’m so glad he did.










Ending Our Year with 60 Second Shakepeare

Sometimes we just need to celebrate. My sophomores just finished their Shakespeare projects, and a few of them are so fun!

Small groups chose one of Shakespeare’s plays. They read the graphic novel of it, read the summaries to be sure the graphic novel hadn’t left out any crucial information, read all the most familiar quotes from that play, and then had to get to work.

We watched examples of 60 Second Shakespeare found here. And we laughed and talked about our plays and the messages Shakespeare conveyed in them. We discussed topic vs. theme. (Mistaking the two is close to the top of my list of pet peeves.)

As a whole class we decided on the elements that we would need to include in our own 60 Second Shakespeare project. Students took ownership.

This is the guide they created that lead to their learning:

60 Second Shakespeare Project

I’m sharing a student project that surprised me. Two young women, both ESL,  who have struggled all year, made this four part set of movies for their project. Of course, five parts (Acts) would have been better, but still.

Twelfth Night

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Lest anyone think we didn’t give the Bard his due and read critically, analyzing symbols, word choice, and more, we did. We just did it with sonnets and speeches from a couple of his works.

All the Worlds a Stage argument essay ties the skills and the content for the unit together.

Thanks to students who were willing to take a risk with some Shakespeare, we’ve ended the year in Pre-AP English II with some laughs and deep learning. And they can for sure tell you why we read Shakespeare so many centuries after he wrote this great literature.

“It’s all about humanity and how we relate to one another,” said one student. He gets it!

P.S.  This one got presented late, but it’s too great not to share:  Hamlet

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